Cary Berglund, Sergio LeLevier
A cute dog is at the center of an ugly and expensive legal battle involving a New York man and his ex-girlfriend, who moved to California with the dog after the two split last year. Cary Berglund reports for NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on May 15, 2012.
A cute dog is at the center of an ugly and expensive legal battle involving a New York man and his ex-girlfriend, who moved to California with the dog after the two split last year.
"Knuckles" the puggle -- part pug, part beagle, all adorable -- was one part of the puppy love triangle involving Sarah Brega and Craig Dershowitz. They were living in New York City when they took in the puppy about two years ago.
After the couple broke up in March 2011, Dershowitz filed court papers in which he claimed Brega stole Knuckles and moved to Southern California. Dershowitz claimed Brega was expected to give him the dog after he found a new place to live.
"Knuckles is my son," Dershowitz told "TODAY." "I don't mean to come off as if he's more important than an actual human child, but to me he actually is. He's part of my family. I was with him since he was four months old."
Dershowitz said he spent the money to buy Knuckles and pay for his care. His complaint filed in New York alleges that Brega "has intentionally and maliciously taken unilateral possession and control of Knuckles and kidnapped him."
But Brega said floppy-eared Knuckles was an unconditional gift and that both parties paid their share.
"We split everything 50-50," Brega said. "Vet bills, daycare bills. Everything was divied up and split."
In her motion to dismiss her ex-boyfriend's claims, Brega said "Knuckles" was left in her possession in Massachusetts after the couple relocated there from New York City. Her motion, dated March 2012, claims they agreed "Knuckles would stay in Massachusetts because there was a better life for him there than in New York City."
She then moved to California where, according to court documents, "Knuckles" lives a "healthy and happy life."
"I did take the dog to California," Brega said. "I didn't need to check with him. It wasn't his dog."
Pet custody battles are becoming more common.
"When people first get together they form a couple, and they move in together. Maybe they buy a house. Their real bonding starts when they have an animal together before they have a child," according to attorney and author, David Pisarra. "There's fewer and fewer people who are having children. As people are recognizing that animals do have feelings, and are more important in their lives."
Dershowitz, 34, launched a website on which he is attempting to raise money for legal fees, which have cost him about $60,000, according to TODAY.com. Contributors can receive a virtual smooch for $10, a "Free Knux" shirt for $25 or a Knuckles portrait for $200. At the $10,000 level, contributors will receive a graffiti mural.
As of Tuesday morning, he raised $2,554. His goal is $20,000.